Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Technocentrism and Religious Faith

It seems to me that religious beliefs are compatible with scientific beliefs in exactly the same way as judgments of esthetic taste are so compatible.

Most people of religious faith and spiritual practice seem to me to be engaged in moral projects of identification/disidentification and esthetic projects of meaning-making/self-creation.

Warranted scientific beliefs give us greater powers of prediction and control in our environment and are defined not by faith but by defeasibility. Scientific belief yields neither moral nor esthetic satisfactions. Whenever champions of consensus science (of whom I am enthusiastically one myself) declare otherwise this is because they are appropriating scientific beliefs and practices for these ends in a way that is not itself scientific -- but which is compatible with science for exactly the same reasons that religious faith is likewise compatible with science within their proper bounds.

I am an atheist myself. I am an atheist for good reasons and I do not hesitate to say so for fear of "offending" some of the faithful by visibly existing. I cheerfully recommend atheism to everyone as a possible pathway to satisfaction and sanity.

But I do not think my atheism is more compatible than religion or spirituality with a celebration of the emancipatory promise of emerging technologies or with a practical advocacy for their progressive development.

Certainly I am appalled (as are many of the faithful) with the worldy use of religion by some social conservatives to shore up the power of elites, exacerbate the suffering of people they disapprove of, or undermine the verdicts of consensus science. But these issues are separable from the broader question of the compatibility of religious belief with scientific belief or technocentrism as such.

Whatever forms technocriticism takes (technoethics, technocultural theory, "transhumanism," academic posthumanisms, technocratic wonkery, technorealism, whatever) it doesn't look to me much like a consensus-scientific practice and so it is difficult to see why there would be so much of a stake in distinguishing technocriticism from religiosity in any absolute sense or definitive way.

On the contrary: To the extent that technocriticism is about the advocacy of particular developmental outcomes it would seem to me that the fact that vast majorities of actually existing people are variously religious taken together with the fact that their religiosity will often have to be taken into account both in effective policy and in effective formulations of recommendation would imply the opposite sort of conclusion; namely, that technocentrism should take pains to remain alive to religions as abiding forces in the world we share and will continue to share in whatever futures come to pass. Further, to the extent that technocriticism is an occasion for documenting or theorizing about the impact of technology on peoples' lives the fact that religious people are fully-real people and are impacted as much as anybody else by disruptive technological development and habitual prosthetic practices would likewise seem to imply the opposite sort of conclusion.


zibblsnrt said...

I noticed that WTA-Talk seems to be gearing up towards the perennial "let's purge the WTA of anyone who isn't an atheist" argument again.

I suppose it's nice to see that there's some constants in the world, although I gotta wonder if there aren't more important things to worry about there.

Dale Carrico said...

Of course, the real dust ups where wars of religion are concerned invariably take place between advocates of various faiths rather than between the faithful and faithless as such. No doubt that helps account for some of the unexpectedly epic energies that are released when techno-rapturists pooh-pooh fundy apocaloids in technophiliac fora. I have never quite gotten just why a person who claims to be on a path to becoming a robot god gets to call himself an atheist in the first place, but maybe that's just me.

Tom FitzGerald said...

You wrote:

"I am an atheist for good reasons and I do not hesitate to say so for fear of "offending" some of the faithful by visibly existing."

I love this.

As my girlfriend used to say when we commiserated about being atheists at family Christmas gatherings--"Why is it only MY beliefs" that seem to offend people?